When he emerged as a 2017 bizMIX winner, Nicolas E. Mendoza was in the process of developing high-protein snacks from seafood products for his company OneForNeptune. His kickstarter campaign the following year raised more than $65,000 to bring the company to life and, at the time, was the platform’s most successful food project.
MIX caught up with the CEO while Mendoza was in Seattle, where OneforNeptune produces its product—white fish jerky in three flavors: Smoked Sea Salt and Juniper, Fiery Cajun and Honey Lemon Ginger. Since starting online sales last fall and meeting—on time last November—the Kickstarter orders, sales have taken off. In fact, Mendoza was in Seattle getting ready for a production run because the inventory they thought would last until May was about to run out. “A good problem to have,” he notes.
Mendoza had been living and working in Monterey, California, as well as eight other countries, during his time working in marine science and sustainable aquaculture research. What brought him back to New Mexico was the sense that the work he was doing wasn’t “actually making a direct contribution to the things I really cared about.” Mendoza’s fundamental concern is the way “our food system works.” His particular focus was on the lack of sustainability in the food system, particularly as it relates to seafood. Seafood, Mendoza says, “is the No. 1 most internationally traded food commodity and, as the industry stands now, nearly half of seafood we import, which is 90 percent of what the US consumes, goes to waste in one way or another.”
He wanted to create something that “could target the fact that we’re sourcing so much unsustainable seafood overseas that you can’t trace it back to the fisherman who caught it or even understand the social and environmental impact of how that seafood was caught or made.”
At the same time, Mendoza knew first hand that people want to incorporate more seafood into their diets because he heard constantly from people who contacted him, whether at a restaurant or a grocery store, wanting his advice about which fish to eat.
His grandparents’ ranch in the Gila Wilderness has always been the place where Mendoza does his best thinking about his future, so he came back and, while working on the ranch, came up with the idea for OneforNeptune.
“I was thinking about doing farm to table with our cattle and trying to tell more of the story about where your beef comes from,” Mendoza says, “because as it is we always took them to auction and you never see the cow again or know if it ends up at McDonald’s…that idea crossed my mind and I thought, ‘what about beef jerky?’ That’s when it clicked and I realized if I could make a sustainably sourced fish jerky that tasted good, I could tell the whole story.”
The story has resonated, as has the product. Mendoza says the recipe took some trial and error, but as the orders keep coming in “the feedback has been awesome.” The jerky doesn’t just taste good: it’s sustainably sourced, gluten free, preservative free, dairy free and non-GMO. It also has 1.5 times the protein of beef jerky, 30 to 100 times the Omega-3 fatty acids and no saturated fat. “We’re going to be kosher too,” Mendoza says.
Mendoza and his crew, CMO James P. Coop and CFO Garrett C. Delgado, are continuing to plot the company’s growth. Mendoza says they hope to be able to work with our other food businesses in order to have a packaging component in New Mexico (with the production continuing to happen near the food source). They also are talking about creating new products, although the details on that will be revealed at a future date.
The 2019 bizMIX competition opens March 21, so we also asked Mendoza for a few thoughts and some advice on the competition.
If you’re considering entering bizMIX…
“It’s such a crash course in everything it takes to be an entrepreneur,” Mendoza says. “You realize really quickly where your weaknesses are, and it also forces you to move forward in the things you’re less comfortable with…the whole marketing side of things was totally new ground for me, and so I realized quickly that was something to look for in my partners and co-founders, and I did. The other big thing, for someone like me who doesn’t have a brick and mortar business space, was the benefit of really sharpening your message and getting the opportunity to pitch…I would say there’s no better way to advance the viability of your business and hold yourself accountable to making your dream a reality.”
If you’re a chosen as a bizMIX finalist…
“Someone said it when I was accepted, but the more you put into it, the more you’re going to get out of it, and there’s not really a ceiling on that. If you really invest in it, and put in a lot of energy and effort, the only one who is benefitting is you. You’re getting it right back.”
The most important lesson he’s learned as an entrepreneur…
“For me, it wasn’t until I started to eat, breathe, sleep and think about my business every waking moment that I started putting all the pieces together. It started moving forward really quickly. Having a business as a side hustle is perfectly fine…I spent six months doing that and then I hit this point where I couldn’t not think about it. Once it consumed that much of my mental energy, things started really happening: it was night and day.”